Every year, the number of teenagers suffering from mild to severe cases of depression continues to escalate. Statistics reveal that 20% of teenagers experience depression before adulthood, and only 30% of the total number of depressed teens get proper treatment. After a significant decline during the 1990s, many psychologists believe that the primary factors that lead to teen depression are pressures from school or home environment, lifestyle, as well as drugs and alcohol.
What Is Teen Depression?
It is crucial to understand that teen depression is more than the ordinary moodiness that your child manifests every now and then. Teen depression is considered a serious health condition that influences and impacts every aspect of or her young life, such as:
- personal life
- school life
- family life
- social life
- Work (if applicable)
Depression among teenagers is similar to adult depression as it involves emotional and mental disorders. However, the signs and symptoms in teenagers manifest differently due to the level of hormonal changes, physical body changes, and peer pressure.
Depressed people, including teens, tend to view the world and environment in a negative light. They often feel unloved, worthless, and highly critical of themselves. Most often, minor problems can overwhelm them. The condition will interfere with their regular routine, change their behavior, and lead to suicidal thoughts.
When depression sets in, teenagers tend to isolate themselves from friends, family, and society. It also results in chronic fatigue, insomnia, headaches, irritability, mood swings, and loss of appetite.
As a parent, it is essential to remember that teenage depression is not a growth phase. It is real and can be fatal in the absence of professional treatment, proper management, and the support of loved ones. If not treated immediately, it can affect their adult lives.
What Causes Teen Depression?
While there is no single knowledge about the real reason why young people experience depression, multiple factors can trigger it. It can be caused by a mix of psychological, biological, and social factors that range from growth hormones to identity crises.
Now, more than ever, young people are more pressured and stressed compared to previous generations. While modern technology brings convenience, it weakens the face-to-face interactions and activities of the family. It results in getting less physical exercise, less sunshine, and less social or community involvement.
Other factors contributing to chronic stress are an unhealthy diet, environmental toxins, a busy lifestyle, and too much exposure to electronic gadgets. A stressful home or neighborhood environment, violence, and poverty also lead to depressive behavior.
By nature, teens are not emotionally ready to handle the circumstances surrounding significant changes or challenges. When faced with emotionally draining situations like abuse, the divorce of parents, or learning disabilities that affect school performance, a lot of teens tend to withdraw themselves or become rebellious. While a lot of teens can survive the ordeal of the situations, the effects impact their views in life.
Several studies show that the structural component of the adolescent brain differs from the brain of an adult. The level of neurotransmitters in the teens’ brains and the hormonal differences contribute to the development of depression. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine play a pivotal role in mood and behavior regulation. Reducing levels of neurotransmitters can trigger depressive behavior and can lead to depression.
Depression can be hereditary because of its biological component. If your family has a history of depression, there is a great possibility that your child may suffer from this disorder when triggered by a situation or circumstance.
Early childhood trauma
Any type of traumatic life event can leave the child emotionally scarred, causing a long-lasting impression that leads to fear, insecurity, restlessness, and hopelessness. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuses are the most common reasons that develop teen depression.
Learned patterns of pessimistic views
Teens with parents who are negative thinkers are more likely to develop depression. The lack of positive role models to teach them to face problems squarely and think positively to overcome situations make them incapable of handling them well.
Why Your Teenage Child Is at Risk
Certain factors contribute to teen depression. As a parent, you need to be more observant and knowledgeable about this medical disorder to ensure that your child is not at risk.
Here are some of the known facts and factors that contribute to the development of depression among teens:
- Neglected and abused teens
- More female teens suffer from depression than male teens
- Teens who went through traumatic experiences or disruptions at home like family crises, death, or divorce of parents
- Adolescents with chronic physical conditions or illnesses
- Anxiety, ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety, and other mental health issues
- Teens with substance abuse or mental problems that are not treated properly
- Young people whose family has a history of mental illness or depression
- Having difficulty in acknowledging their sexual orientation (whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual)
- Lack of emotional and social support
- Living in an unsafe, impoverished, or violent household/environment
- Bullied by peers
- Trouble in adjusting socially
- Academic problems
- Too much exposure to social media
- Smartphone or game addiction to escape problems
How Would You Know if Your Teenage Child Is Experiencing Depression?
During the adolescence period, it is normal for teens to experience intermittent changes in moods and emotions. These happen because of hormonal changes, causing them to be sad or moody. The emotional episodes can last up to several days, affecting their normal sleep and eating routine, concentration, and productivity level.
While moodiness or sadness can be part of the early manifestation of teenage depression, knowing how to tell the difference is vital. Depression is far beyond the usual swings of emotions, blues, or acting out. It is a strong feeling of despair, melancholy, hopelessness, anger, or discouragement that can destroy the essence of the youngster’s personality. Rebelliousness and unhealthy attitudes can be indications of this disorder. Some ‘act out’ in their attempt to manage or cope with the pain or emptiness that they are experiencing.
As a parent, differentiating normal growing pains from symptoms of depression can be difficult. During this journey of awareness and seeking enlightenment, your unconditional love, support, and guidance can help your teenage child get back their lives on track.
You need to start observing and taking notes of the following:
- How long the behavior or emotion lasts? If your child’s sadness or overly-tired behavior lasts for over two weeks, it can be depression.
- How strong are the emotions? It is crucial to observe if the overwhelming emotions come and go or are present all the time for as long as you or your child remember.
- How big is the impact? You need to gauge the effects of the behavior or emotion on his/her physical health and well-being, relationships, school works, and daily activities.
Taking these factors into consideration will help you intervene and help your teenage child fight depression and prevent long-term consequences. Early intervention and treatment of the symptoms of teenage depression are important to help his/her handle challenges and problems.
What Are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Depression?
Knowing how to spot the early signs of depression is important. Here are some of the most common physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental symptoms to watch out for:
- low energy
- sluggishness or less active in physical activities
- sudden change in weight and eating appetite
- sleeping troubles which include oversleeping, insomnia, or staying in bed longer
- unexplained or vague headaches or stomach aches
- not caring about his/her physical appearance
Behavioral and emotional symptoms
- disinterest in activities that he/she enjoyed doing in the past (hobbies, sports, parties)
- irritability, moodiness, sadness, or tearful episodes while saying she/he feels numb or empty
- persistent thinking of negative things, including suicidal thoughts, death, or hurting oneself, so watch out when your child starts saying ‘I can’t do it anymore’ or ‘I want to die
- a sudden decision to stop going to social events or seeing friends
- angry outbursts that are uncalled for
- low self-esteem
- spending more time alone
- running away from home
- panic and anxiety
- persistent restlessness that leads to acting out or fidgeting
- feeling guilty and worthless
- sensitivity to criticism
- nothing gives him/her true pleasure or fun
- everything and anything can make him/her cry all of a sudden
- exhibiting criminal behaviors like shoplifting or DUI
- irresponsible behaviors
- compulsive overeating or loss of interest in eating
- promiscuous sexual engagement
Thinking (mental) symptoms
- trouble in concentrating, focusing, or organizing
- forgetfulness and trouble in remembering details or information
- difficulty in making sound decisions
- problems in school (not paying attention during classes, low grades, getting into trouble)
- pessimistic views about life and the world
Why Is it Important to Recognize the Early Symptoms of Teenage Depression?
Often, teens do not realize that they are depressed. What they know is that self-criticism is a normal reaction when they see themselves as a loser, a quitter, a failure, or a bad student.
Their misbehavior can be seen as just having a bad attitude or a bad day. Sometimes, people around the teen think that she/he is not putting enough effort or not trying hard to succeed. Because of this impression, your child tends to keep his/her distance and stop communicating. The thought of ‘Why should I bother?’ leads to skipping classes or running away.
Underlying problems can intensify the teen’s inner pain or feeling of not being worthy. Those who are suffering from eating disorders, harming themselves, or going through extreme mood changes are attempting to cope with unresolved emotional problems that trigger their depression. The only way to treat the other issues is to treat the symptoms of teen depression.
How to Help Your Teenage Child Overcome Depression?
Teen depression does not go away on its own but requires the professional intervention of a health professional. It is vital to show your child that you are with him/her every step away. It is also best to seek guidance to help you deal with the problem effectively. Knowing what to do is essential to the resolution of teenage depression.
You may consider visiting the following people/institutions to enlighten you about mental health issues.
- Your family doctor or GP
- School counselor
- Psychologist or psychiatrist
- Local mental health services
- Local community health centers
Armed with knowledge and awareness of teen depression, it is crucial to act immediately. Teen depression can be very damaging, so don’t wait until the symptoms are worse. Addressing the problem is the key to helping your child manage depression.
Your teenage child will not seek help by their own volition but needs your help to get treatment. However, it is not easy to talk about your concerns. Expect at some point that she/he will deny that something is wrong and refuse to get treatment. During this crucial moment, it is necessary to be firm about your decision and show some tough love.
- Encourage your teen to talk about his/her feelings and thoughts or share what he/she is going through.
- Avoid asking a lot of questions because some teens do not like being patronized or cornered.
- Listen with empathy, resisting the urge to lecture, pass judgment, or criticize.
- Make him/her feel that you are there to listen and support unconditionally.
- When your child shuts you up or avoids discussion, do not give up easily. You need to understand that sharing emotions can be very tough and painful. It is not easy to express what he/he is feeling, so respect his/her comfort level but gently encourage the child to open up when he/she is ready.·
- Acknowledge the validity of your child’s feelings, fears, and thoughts. Avoid downplaying the emotions, no matter how irrational or silly they are. Let your teenage child knows that you are taking his/her emotions seriously and giving the assurance and support he/she needs to overcome the condition.
How Will You Know if it Is Time to Seek Professional Help?
If you suspect that your child is suffering from teen depression, seeking the help of a therapist or health professional is the next step. It is also a must-do when the depressive behavior is getting worse.
Finding the right people and the right treatment is vital to the alleviation of symptoms of teenage depression. For proper diagnosis of the problem, a psychologist or psychiatrist will perform the evaluation, taking into account the family history, relationships with peers, and school performance. The evaluation may involve asking a series of questions about their moods, thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
Psychological and behavioral evaluation
To qualify for major depressive disorder (MDD), there should be at least two major displays of depressive episodes within two weeks. The episodes should include 5 of the following signs or symptoms:
- Depressed mood most of the day
- Psychomotor retardation or visible agitation
- Excessive sleepiness or insomnia
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Diminished interest in a lot of activities
- Reduced ability to concentrate or think
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
- Feelings of excessive guilt and worthlessness
A thorough medical checkup is also necessary to rule out underlying medical conditions or diseases that contribute to teen depression. Conditions like hypothyroidism can cause tiredness, low energy level, or depressed mood.
How to Treat Teen Depression?
After determining the severity of teen depression, the health expert will recommend treatment to help your child. It may involve psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two. For severe depression, it may require confinement in a psychiatric unit to manage the symptoms.
- Talk therapy. Talk therapy is a type of intervention to overcome depression. It is conducted by a licensed therapist or counselor to help your teenage child change his/her thinking patterns, boost self-esteem and self-acceptance, build confidence to handle stressors and life’s struggles, and adopt more positive emotions. This is best for managing mild to moderate cases of teen depression.
- Psychotherapy. It is a more advanced intervention to treat depression in youths. It may include the ‘three T’s for depression’- interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
- Medications. Administering antidepressants to alleviate the symptoms can be helpful, but monitoring is important. Several studies link these types of medication to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
How to Support Your Teenage Child Through Treatment?
Love and support are two factors that make a whole world of difference for teenagers during the low points of their lives. As a parent, it is essential to be your child’s rock and strength during the depression treatment. As much as possible, involve him/her in exploring the treatment options. Get your teen’s input about his/her preferred option and discuss the pros and cons before making a decision.
Be understanding and patient, remembering that your teenage child is not acting out on purpose but seeking help to overcome the negative emotions and thoughts helps you put everything in proper perspective.
Stay involved during the treatment by making sure that all instructions are followed, the proper dosage of prescribed medication is given on schedule, and all therapy sessions are attended. Keep track of the changes in your child’s physical, emotional, social, and behavioral engagement.
Celebrate small victories and always be prepared for possible setbacks. The road to recovery can be difficult and bumpy, but going through the rough road is the only key to helping your child overcome teenage depression with flying colors.